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Chardonnay: The Global Grape
Chardonnay’s full-bodied taste makes it one of the food-friendliest white wines. Sample possible pairings with this Groupon guide.
The chardonnay grape can grow nearly anywhere. Given its easygoing nature, it’s little surprise that it produces one of the world’s most popular wines, much as dandelions are the world’s most popular flower. Vines from France to California to Australia burst forth with the pale-green fruit, which vintners convert to white wine in both New World and Old World styles.
Unlike most whites, chardonnay is robust enough to stand up to aging in oak casks, where it can acquire notes of vanilla, toast, and smoke. Prolonged oak aging is common among New World chardonnays, which include popular vintages from California’s Russian River Valley and Carneros region. Often relatively high in alcohol, these full-bodied whites may also acquire a buttery or creamy taste through malolactic fermentation, a process that softens the wine’s natural acids. They also often pair well with white meats or pastas in creamy sauces.
Those used to sipping well-oaked New World chardonnays might be surprised to see what the grape can do in the Old-World style. Crisper and brighter, these so-called white burgundies mingle notes of earth, flint, and other minerals amid their complex fruit. (Côte de Beaune and Chablis are two regions noted for this style within France.) Pairing with seafood and roast chicken can help bring out this style’s crispness.
Of course, this dichotomy oversimplifies things a little bit, since New World producers are starting to come out with less oaky wines, too. Today, some Californian and South American whites are fermented in steel barrels, which yield wine with more acid and fruitiness and fewer wood-sprite tears. As the varietal continues to evolve, oenophiles should expect to read wine lists and bottle labels more closely if they want to accurately predict the flavor of a new chardonnay.